Three parallel stories set in New York, Paris and Rome are threaded together in this film which feigns deep emotion, while showing stories which superficially overlap in plot and theme.
Michael, Liam Neeson, a writer is in New York on the pretense of writing, while letting his wife, Elaine, Kim Basinger, think he is actually in Rome. He is really with Anna, Olivia Wilde, his girlfriend and writer. Meanwhile, Scott, Adrian Brody a business man traveling in Rome, meets a young woman, Moran Atlas, Monika, and attempts to aid her in getting her kidnapped daughter back. Finally, Julia, Mila Kunis lives in New York, has lost custody of her child to Rick, James Franco, and is desperately trying to gain visitation, retain a job and her sanity.
The problem with this film is that it is extremely disjointed, and convoluted, while the characters are a myriad of clichés all banded together to somehow make a statement on the importance of parenting and relationships. Anna is constantly running to Michael, and then pushing away; Michael, who is trying to write something which will sell, merely parrots back what others say into his stories thus using his relationships and those of others he knows to create for him what he cannot, due to his own lack of imagination.
What we find out about why Anna is so distant comes as no surprise, and the viewer feels that the writers planted this in the story for shock value alone. However, the sad truth is, we never get to know why these things happen, or what makes these characters tick. Michael and Anna scream and yell at each other and then, they have sex. She yells at him that his responses to her are clichés and one wants to shriek back at her, that her entire character is one long cliché. Why does she like him? Why does he like her?
However, let us move on to the next story in which we see Scott, Adrian Brody in Rome as a business man who seems lost and irritated that no one speaks English. Watching this one has to ask, you are in a foreign country and you expect everyone to speak your language? Why didn’t he at least take an Italian/English dictionary so he could order from a menu? He goes to a bar called “Bar American” assuming that since it has the word “American” in the title that they will speak English. They don’t and he is further upset.
It is in this bar that he meets Monika, who actually speaks English. It is during his encounter with her that he shares that he has a daughter and she says she does as well. However, when she leaves the bar she forgets her bag and the people in the bar assume it is a bomb and flee. Scott tracks her down to give her the bag back and finds out that the bag contained money which Monika was using to pay off kidnappers to get her daughter back.
The last story involves Julia, Mila Kunis who has lost custody of her son, due to a mental health breakdown in which she may have harmed her son. Julia has not been able to retain a job, or get her life in order, but is desperate to do so, in her quest to see her child. Of all the stories in the film this one is the most believable and the most coherent.
However, coherency is the problem with both plot and character development. It is as if the writers had a concept but felt they did not have enough time to develop it, or that they decided that aesthetically it would be interesting to string together ideas on a chalk board without ever bringing them to fruition.
For example, one has to ask, if Julia works in housekeeping in the same hotel that Michael is in, then why does the interior of the hotel look so dissimilar? It is as if they are in different hotels. This is especially apparent when they show the hall in which Julia glides her cleaning cart; it is clearly not the same one that Michael strides in when he returns to his room.
This same sense of discontinuity runs through the scenes in Rome. Monika keeps telling Scott that she needs to get her daughter back, and he continually tries to help her. However, we never see her daughter and Scott never asks for proof that a daughter even exists. He replays a message from his daughter, yet we never learn what happened. The quests for their daughters, seems to be the thread that ties them together. Is he a patsy in some game? Why does she pursue him and why would he want to be with someone whose agenda is so circumspect?
There is meanness in this film which is just under the surface. Throughout all three stories, children are pawns in showing how parents through a momentary lapse in judgement, attentiveness or sanity, can unwittingly harm them. However, in the case of Anna the damage is not through carelessness but is actually deliberate. Her story is perhaps the saddest, since it is the effect on the grown child and not just on the parent/ perpetrator which is shown.
To add insult to this, Michael in his attempt to regain his glory as a writer uses Anna, his wife and others to further his career at the expense of relationships. While he broods over the mess he has made of his life, it is also clear that he is a shallow opportunist and thus, whatever promises his makes to Anna, in the end they are meaningless. It is what he can get out of the relationship, and how it helps him further his career that matters. This is usury at its ugliest.
What is notable about this is that by making three stories in one film, it not only split focus, but summarily wedged a scythe between each one. Each story could have been a film unto itself. However, by linking them into one, the result is not just a jumbled mess, but also one in which the viewer is left confused, annoyed and half way through wishing the film would end. This movie drags and drags with the result that the viewer feels they are being suffocated and are in wont for a bit of remittance, just a taste of clean air.